There are many books on the topic ‘definition of India’. Many of them presenting their own theories, some of them meticulously researched ones and some of them written with an aim to propagate a particular ideology. The Idea of India is one such book which defines "Indian-ness" from the viewpoint of Sunil Khilnani, a Professor of Politics, and Director of the King's College London India Institute. The author describes the events of past hundred years to tell us what is the unifying us Indians. Or is there any unifying thing? Or is the respect of diversity is unifying India? When Indian Union was formed in 1947 many in West prophesied that India won't survive owing to its own differences. The Western Idea of nationalism meant that India is a continent with different cultures like Europe is. But India stands today united and stronger than earlier. The author tries to find the reasons behind this. 

In the first section named 'democracy' khilnani talks about how india transformed into a democracy and he presents a timeline which starts during British Raj. The aim of british raj was to sustain their rule in India and in the process they introduced few steps to improve the social living of india or they presented these steps like that. Although congress was established in 1885, it did not demand independence till a decade or two after its inception. It was used a platform for debate, but as the representation of different sections of society increased in Congress, it considered itself true representative of India masses and rightful inheritor of Raj. Gandhiji dominated the Congress from 1920s till his death and he had his way as in the case when Subhash Chandra Bose had to step down as Congress president. With demise of Gandhiji the idea of village self-rule was dropped and India adopted a democracy then popular in the west. Khilnani also shows the contrast between Nehru and Indira. He also considers the 1962 war with China as his greatest failure as does Ramachandra Guha in India after Gandhi. Khilanani says that while nehru was inclusive and tolerated dissidence to a level, Indira Gandhi was more authoritarian and she established a direct contact with masses giving them hopes. She portrayed constitution and other authorities as hurdles coming in her way while she was working for the masses. During Indira's days, the party became merely an instrument to bring votes and young people in youth congress saw politics as a shortcut to reach to the top. Among many of the deformations that entered the democratic system, there was one positive point too. Public's faith in voting system increased more and more, and it became a norm for voices standing for suppressed people to enter the election system.

In the second section titled "temples of the future", the discussion is on the economic policies and their achievements since independence till 1997. The author starts with describing socialist democratic policies of Nehru in early 1950s and ends the section with an account of India's situation post Liberalization drive of 1991. Nehru gave priority to heavy industries and along with Planning Commission, a body formed to give economic policy directions, India wanted to achieve economic growth and security through these heavy Industries. It is a different story that we did not succeed too much in that initiative and most of the state owned enterprises started incurring heavy losses. Planning Commission itself lost its authority that it had in Nehru's period and economic policies were being decided by Finance Ministry after Indira Gandhi's rule. The author discussed in detail the role of P. C. Mahalanobis in giving scientific direction to India's economic policy formulation. During Indira Gandhi's rule actions like - abolition of Privy Purses, nationalisation of banks and expansion of state owned enterprises, aimed more towards getting political mileage than being guided by economic thoughts. State owned enterprises became a symbol of patronizing and they failed to create any wealth for state. Although the rate of inflation was in control for most of period since independence till late 1980s, things started deteriorating so much so that in 1991 we had foreign reserves enough for only two weeks of imports. India was on the edge of a serious fiscal crisis and faced the possibility of defaulting on its own borrowings. IMF gave loans to India on one conditions that a range of comprehensive structural reforms will be carried out. At this time a new government was formed and liberalisation of economic regime started. 

'The Idea of India' by 'Sunil Khilnani'
The third section is devoted to the development of Indian cities, the seats of colonial power. The author describes the tendency among early nationalists of Congress to unseat the British from these cities and occupy the high chair and everything else remaining unchanged. That tendency changed only after advent of Gandhi in political landscape in India when the focus shifted to villages, although Gandhi himself had started of his political career in a city and was successful because of his ability to mobilize people in cities, but he refused to follow the British model of power blindly. Big port cities of Bombay, Madras, Calcutta were huge commercial and economic centres but British Raj needed something more magnificent, something which does not mixes with past and can be shown as an example of modernity to the Indians. And thus born the city of New Delhi. The author agrees that the  British control of India existed because the cities existed. What Raj tried to do with New Delhi, Nehru did same with Chandigarh, a city built as an example of modernity. In near future India can become the country with highest population in cities because of increasing pace of urbanization.

In the fourth section, the author tries to find the answer of "Who is an Indian?" Then he travels through history to say that there was no geopolitical entity called India and it was British Raj which created India by amalgamating different princely states and declining Mughal Empire. Even after fifty years of independence it is asked that what is the definition that defines an Indian? While searching answer of this question, the author describes various nationalist movements happened in India during last two hundred years. He also describes the version of Gandhi, that of a village rule with daily tolerance among all communities and the version of Nehru, that was based in his version of, sometimes imaginative, history where "India appeared as a space of ceaseless cultural mixing, its history a celebration of the soiling effects of cultural miscegenation and accretion." The author also contests against the Idea of Hindu Nationalism and described them as something inspired by Western nationalism movements but which was unlikely to work in India because here we do not have a common language, religion or ethnicity, but a mixture of these. The political developments of late 1980s and early 1990s also cemented the identity of different regions and communities. In words of the author one who honors all these diversities is a true Indian.

While describing these things author could have been more neutral instead of sticking with a particular ideology. The author heaped lavish praise on Jawaharlal Nehru for his thoughts, comfortably ignoring his few deeds such as Sino-Indian war in 1962. In fact author rues the war because it led increased military expenditure and military officers ending up having more say in strategic matters. What author fails to emphasize that the Idea of India can flourish only if its borders are safe. Also the author criticized home-grown nationalist movements more than he did British Raj for colonialism. Overall this book is an interesting read especially first two chapters even if you do not agree with author's viewpoint, presented in nice story-telling style. 


'Falling over backwards - an essay against the reservation and judicial populism' is one of the most meticulously researched and persuading book written by a zeal of a person with a mission in his mind. And the mission was to make it a point that individual should be the unit of the governance not the interest groups or communities. The author Arun Shourie who has written many more books on the topics which just do not get too much attention in the public discourse that we have in place today. Written in 2005, Shourie took many cases from the history,  words from the constitutional amendments, and excerpts from the judgments of high courts and supreme court just to debate on the merit of the reservations being given on any basis. In this book, Shourie emphasizes on basically three things : first, the tendency among the public to register as uppers castes during British Raj and subsequent loosening of the caste boundaries; second, the politicians approach to identity politics and seeing this as a chance to rise in Indian political landscape; third; the response of High Courts and Supreme Courts and the arguments given by progressive judges. These are three main areas in which the author researched and put forward his arguments. Let us look at them one by one. 

When census was started in British Raj, caste based census was also started by them. Among other reasons, this was also done to see if different communities can be given proportional representation which was then strictly based on religion. When this was started there was two main trends visible among people. First was caste consolidation, in which many similar caste and sub-castes formed one umbrella group and wished to be enrolled as such. One example that author gives in his book is that of Yadav surname which was adopted by different castes such as Ahir. The second trend was the tendency among people to enroll as upper castes. So many castes deemed so far as lower castes enrolled as different categories of Kshatriyas and Brahmins. People were eager to leave lower caste stamp on them. The other advancements such as Railways also contributed in fighting with this taboo. People sitting together in railways won't ask caste of the fellow passenger whereas in villages untouchability was still prominent. The overall effect was that caste boundaries were slowly and slowly getting less relevant. In fact, different communities enrolled as different caste or caste groups in census and as an altogether different caste or caste groups in subsequent census. This had a hit on the reliability of census data. British Raj discontinued the caste based census in 1931 citing the unreliability of data so collected.

The second part that Arun Shourie touched upon is the politics over reservation. With reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes firmly in place, demands started for reservation to other backward classes. But with no criteria to define a backward class upon which everybody agreed, castes became synonymous with classes as far as reservation is concerned. Politicians losing credibility resorted to the identity politics and during 1980s demands were so strong that it was possible to achieve those demands from a weak government. Here too it is noteworthy that many times the proper procedures to define a caste as backward were not followed. Procedures said that a backward class commission will study the social, economic and educational status of a community before awarding the status of backward class, but in practice those groups who had enough electoral clout and those who could protest protest were included in the backward classes list. The trends that we saw in early twentieth century where people enrolled them as upper castes are reversed now and there is clamour in these communities to be declared as backward classes. Then this fact should also be not ignored that the reservation was given based on the data of last caste based census in 1931. This basis has two arguable assumptions - first, the rate of population growth has remained same and second, the demographics of various regions have not changed despite uneven economic development in different areas in fifty years and a large scale migration due to partition. 

'Falling over backwards' by 'Arun Shourie'
The third thing that Shourie studied was the response of high Courts and Supreme Court. To cite from the many examples given by Shourie in his book, many times courts would deliver judgments citing Manu Smriti, the impact and influence of an ancient text itself under question and many time they would leave the decision on the executive (the government). Arun Shourie makes one point that in Western Countries, the prospective law officials have to study the judgments of higher courts. In India, this was hardly the tradition leaving many monumental judgments go unnoticed and escaping academic scrutiny. In India, whatever new act and constitutional amendment were passed by political class in parliament were later nodded to by courts. This has the result that reservation looked more like permanent although they implemented for a predefined time-period. 

It would be wrong to say that reservation did not bring any benefit to the communities for which these were enacted, but the point is that these benefits should be debatable and how more deprived people can be given benefits in other ways, apart from reservation, should be considered too. The fact is that reservation is a reality and no political party can reverse that, we must analyse in retrospect the effects of the reservation and its alternatives. In this book, Shourie's love for detail is impressing but many times many arguments become repetitive and same characters keep coming in at different places for different points to prove. This book is not that an easy read but it is a well researched books on a political topic full of facts which are hard to find anyways.


सूर्योदय और सूर्यास्त, भोर और साँझ 

प्रकृति की दो प्रक्रियाएँ हमेशा से ही आकर्षित करती रही हैं। वो हैं - सूर्योदय और सूर्यास्त। भोर की वेला का आकर्षण होता है सूर्योदय और वैसे ही साँझ वेला का मुख्य आकर्षण सूर्यास्त होता है। मुझे अच्छी तरह से याद है कि बचपन में स्कूल की दीवारों पर लिखी हुई सूक्तियों में एक यह भी हुआ करती थी कि "सूर्य न तो अस्त होता है और न उदय, हम ही जागकर सो जाते हैं।" अब बाल मन ने कहावत पढ़ी और अनदेखा कर दिया, हर दिन। उस समय इस कहावत के खगोलीय और दार्शनिक महत्व के बारे में ज्यादा पता न था। और अब हालत ये है कि सूर्योदय और सूर्यास्त को देखते ही मेरे अंदर का दार्शनिक जाग उठता है। हालाँकि दिनचर्या ऐसी है कि इनको देखना कम ही हो पाता है। और ऐसा भी नहीं है कि सूर्योदय को देखकर सबके मन में सिर्फ दार्शनिक विचार ही आते हैं। लेखक जरॉड किंट्ज़ ने तो सूर्य के चाल-चलन की ही शिकायत कर दी। कारण भी ये कि भोर में सूर्य रेंगते हुए खिड़कियों पर चढ़ आता हैं और वहां से झांकता है। लेकिन घबराइये नहीं। सूर्य के चरित्र-हनन का मेरा कोई इरादा नहीं है। 

उखीमठ, उत्तराखंड में गढ़वाल मंडल विकास निगम के गेस्ट हाउस की एक भोर आज तक नहीं भूलती है। वैसे तो हिमालय में सूर्योदय के उत्तम दृश्य देखने के लिए कुछ जगहें ही उपयुक्त कही जा सकती हैं और वो इसलिए क्यूंकि ज्यादातर पहाड़ी बस्तियां पर्वतों से घिरी होती हैं। जब तक सूर्य पहाड़ों के ऊपर आता है, तब तक दिन काफी चढ़ चुका होता है और सूर्य अपना नवजातपन खो चुका होता है। मुझे याद है कि एक बार हृषिकेश में सूर्योदय देखने के लिए हमने रात्रि-जागरण किया था लेकिन सुबह सूर्य दिखने तक भोर का नामोनिशान गायब हो चुका था। खैर उखीमठ ने हमें निराश नहीं किया। वहां से हिमाच्छादित पहाड़ों की छटा बस देखते ही बनती थी। सामने गुप्तकाशी और बीच में घाटी में बह रही मन्दाकिनी नदी की कर्णप्रिय आवाज और फिर बादलों से अठखेलियां करता हुआ सूरज। जनवरी के महीने में सूर्य की गुनगुनी किरणें किसी वरदान से कम तो नहीं लग रही थीं। और सूर्य की लालिमा से बादल और बर्फ से ढके पहाड़ भी लाल लग रहे थे। 

हृषिकेश में सूर्योदय देखने का सौभाग्य हमें प्राप्त नहीं हुआ लेकिन सूर्यास्त जरूर देखा यहाँ पर। त्रिवेणी घाट से हमने सूर्य को नीचे मैदानों की तरफ जाते देखा। उस जगह से गंगा नदी भी एक मोड़ लेकर आँखों से ओझल हुई जा रही थी और सूर्य भी अस्त हो रहा था। ऐसा लग रहा था कि उस जगह तक प्रकृति की सत्ता है और उसके बाद मनुष्य की। मसूरी की साँझ भी कम शानदार नहीं कही जा सकती। पहाड़ों से रहित एक साँझ में हमने पूरा सूर्यास्त देखा। सूर्य को धीरे धीरे लाल होते देखा और फिर पूरा क्षितिज लाल था, पहाड़ों का बस धुंधला सा खाका देखा जा सकता था। कुछ देर बाद सूर्य जब और अस्ताचल की ओर बढ़ चला तब आसमान में एक रेखा साफ़ देखी जा सकती थी जिसके नीचे अंधकार था और जिसके ऊपर लाल रौशनी जगमगा रही थी। जब सूर्य दिखना बंद हो गया तब लाल आकाश के नीचे देहरादून शहर में जलते हुए प्रकाश बिम्ब साँझ की शोभा बढ़ा रहे थे। 

कभी कभी सोचता हूँ कि मनुष्य को सूर्योदय और सूर्यास्त क्यों अच्छा लगता है। सूर्योदय को अच्छा लगने के पीछे यह कारण हो सकता है कि मनुष्य की इस धारणा की पुष्टि होती है कि अंधकार नित्य नहीं रहेगा। हमारी संस्कृति में अंधकार को बुराई और प्रकाश को अच्छाई का प्रतीक माना गया है। प्रतिदिन सूर्योदय उस बुराई पर अच्छाई की विजय का प्रतीक है। और सहज ही समझा जा सकता है कि पुराने समय में लोग सूर्योदय की इतनी बेसब्री से प्रतीक्षा क्यों करते होंगे। और रही बात सूर्यास्त की तो उसको भी अच्छाई-बुराई से जोड़ते हुए यह कहा जा सकता है कि लोगों को पता है कि यह जो अँधेरा सूर्यास्त ला रहा है वो क्षणिक है, कल फिर सूर्योदय होगा और अंधकार पराजित होगा। इसलिए वो उत्साह से भोर का इंतज़ार करते हैं। 

कभी यह नहीं सोचा था कि सूर्योदय और सूर्यास्त में ज्यादा कौन अच्छा लगता है। मुझसे यह प्रश्न हिंदी साहित्य जगत के नवांकुरों में से एक ने पूछा था। मैंने थोड़ा सोचा इस बारे में, लेकिन बुद्धिजीवियों को संतुष्ट कर पाने वाला जवाब नहीं मिला। मैंने बताया कि सूर्यास्त ज्यादा अच्छा लगता है क्यूंकि वो आँखों को ज्यादा सुखदायी होता है। तब उस नवांकुर ने बताया , "किसी चीज की सुंदरता का एहसास तब ज्यादा होता है जब वह हमसे दूर जा रही हो, बजाय इसके कि जब वह चीज हमारे पास आई हो और काफी दिन तक साथ रहे। और जब हम किसी चीज को जाते हुए देखते हैं तो हम उसे देखने के लिए रुकते हैं। उससे आत्मीयता का एहसास होता है। उगते हुए सूरज की वैसे तो कुछ लोग पूजा भी करते हैं लेकिन उसे उगते हुए देखने के लिए कोई रुकता नहीं है जैसे कि लोग अस्त होते हुए सूरज को देखने के लिए रुकते हैं।" सचमुच इस प्रश्न का इससे खूबसूरत दार्शनिक जवाब संभव नहीं था।

मसूरी की एक साँझ
मसूरी की एक साँझ
(तस्वीर धर्मेन्द्र कुमार  के सौजन्य से )


From Barot we went to Kasol, another small town of Himachal Pradesh situated in parvati valley. From Ghatasani we boarded a bus to Bhuntar via Mandi. We came through a tunnel in Aut little before Bhuntar. These engineering marvels always fascinate me. Bhuntar has a small airport with few flights to Chandigarh and Delhi, mostly catering to the tourists arriving for Kullu and Manali. Kullu is just 5 km away from Bhuntar. I bought at last the traditional Kullu topi in Bhuntar to keep it as a souvenir of this trip. In Bhuntar, Parvati river meets Beas river and they continue their ]journey as Beas river. One could easily distinguish two rivers at their ‘Sangam’, one was rich in silt and other was cleaner and greener. 
Sangam of Parvati and Beas rivers
Sangam of Parvati and Beas rivers

We boarded a bus from Bhuntar to Manikaran. Manikaran is 34 km away from Bhuntar. Kasol is 3 km before Manikaran. Manikaran is a famous pilgrimage destination and we saw many pilgrims flocking to manikaran having orange and yellow flags on their vehicles. manikaran has a famous Gurudwara, Manikaran Sahib, a temple and a hot water spring. 
Parvati river in Kasol
Parvati river in Kasol

The journey from Bhuntar to Kasol was the most pleasant one in our journey so far. We were in bus with mighty parvati river flowing in valley, lightly raining, cool air blowing and with mind lost somewhere. Not to forget the dangerous roads. On our way to Kasol we saw baskets moving on wires from one mountain to another on either side the valley. This motorised apparatus was installed to transport materials to inaccessible villages. 
Road to Manikaran
Road to Manikaran 

We reached kasol in evening and after searching for hotel rooms, we settled for one cottage on a hill slope, little secluded from the main market of Kasol. We then went near Parvati river. The roar of running water was splendid and so were the rapids formed by rocks. On one side was Parvati river and on the other side was a jungle of chir trees. It was a beautiful setting. From Kasol we could see snow capped peaks in distance shining because of reflection of red sun. 
Snow capped mountains towards Manikaran
Snow capped mountains towards Manikaran

We continued our journey along the banks of Parvati river on the road to Manikaran. There we came across a small bridge on Parvati river meant for a small village on the other side. While crossing this bridge, it started vibrating which frightened us, more so in the backdrop of the river colliding with rocks and increasing turbulence. 
in Kasol
in Kasol

It was already dark and we started to return towards market area of Kasol. This small village was particularly famous among Israeli tourists. We saw many of them. In fact one of the shopkeepers told us they have been living here for months and are hundreds in number. Many of them are living in villages on the outskirts of Kasol. The importance of Israeli tourists can be understood by many signboards which were in hebrew. One of the signboards described Kasol as Chabad of Israel. Even restaurants served many israeli dishes. 


I have visited many towns and cities in hilly states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, but there was a desire within to travel to a Himalayan village, an isolated place life is not so fast-paced and where I can sit and relax surrounded by hills. One of my friends had been to Barot and when he posted pictures of this small village, I was impressed by them. I wanted to visit this village then, but this place is difficult to reach in winters due to snowfall. We got to know from the villagers in Barot that snowfall continued till early may in Barot. Even this was a spontaneous plan made a day before actual travel. After considering few places, we zeroed in on Barot.
Way to Barot
Way to Barot

There are two popular routes to reach Barot. First is by bus via Mandi. Second is by bus via Joginder Nagar. Even while coming via railways from Pathankot station, one has to reach Joginder Nagar. From Mandi or Joginder Nagar, buses are available at regular intervals. On the Mandi-Joginder Nagar highway, there is a small diversion at Ghatasani for Barot. Barot is around 25 km from Ghatasani. Roads till Ghatasani were in a good condition, but after Ghatasani we saw typical Himalayan Roads : narrow, curvy, single lane although not one way. We crossed Uhl river near Tikkan village. It took us little less than two hours to reach Barot from Joginder Nagar. 

After reaching Barot, we got to know to our surprise that most of the good places to stay were already booked. We had in our mind a small village which would not be crowded by visitors and which was yet to become a popular tourist destination. We got a room at one River View home stay. In Barot there are many homestays, rooms that people spare from their daily usage during tourist season. Ours was in Multhan, a small village situated on the other side of the river but in district Kangra. 
Multhan village near Barot
Multhan village near Barot

When we reached Barot, the weather was sunny and it was not particularly pleasant. But after couple of hours clouds came and cool winds started blowing. It was nice to roam around in such a weather. First place that we went to was Haulage Trolley. This trolley was built during British reign and was used to transport instruments and materials for building Shanan Dam and Reservoir. Currently it is operated by Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB). This trolley was used for transportation till 1970s when Barot was still not connected by a road. 
Haulage Trolley
Haulage Trolley

When we looked from the start of trolley tracks to it going high and high to the peak, the first thing that came to my mind was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ a famous song by Led Zeppelin, although in this case it was ‘Railway to Heaven’. These tracks invited a visit and we accepted happily. Starting of the tracks was not that steep and we had no problem but then it became very steep, so steep that we had to use all our limbs to reach beyond first of such steep parts. We stopped there to take rest. Then we met a resident of nearby village returning from school. Travelling 5 km to and fro for schooling was a tough task when it involved climbing hills also. While coming to Barot, we also saw very young children going to school, standing in a jam-packed bus, something we experienced while going to Kasauli as well. He told us that there were three such steep parts in trolley tracks and with this speed it would already be dark by the time we would return. Then started rains. We abandoned our plans to go to the other side of the hills with heavy heart as we had seen in pictures that the other side of the hill provided breathtaking views. 
River run-off in Barot
River run-off in Barot

We also little further than Haulage Trolley and went in the valley to be with river Uhl. The clean water moving with speed and small falls made that place a beautiful one. Next on our list was the Shanan Hydel Power Project. this hydel plant was built on Uhl river in 1932 during British Raj. It was the first Megawatt capacity hydro power plant in India. There were two diversions for stream which were used to send water to Shanan Power house situated few kilometers downstream. There was also a water jet like structure sending water upwards, that was the attraction of the evening for us. 
With Uhl river in Barot
With Uhl river in Barot

We also went to the Trout Fishing area. One has to take prior license for fishing. There we saw colorful fishes of different sizes. During night we wandered on the empty roads of Barot and Multhan. Times like this ideal setting for our bakaiti sessions. Next day we got up late in the morning and missed first bus from Barot to Ghatasani. Next bus was after two hours. We went again to the Dam and in the mean time also tried hands on sling-shot. Then the bus came and we left for our next destination, Kasol